Punk and Proud: With His New Picture, Punks, Writer-Director Patrik-Ian Polk Awakens Gay Films to an African-American Perspective. (Film)

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"Hold on one second." That's how Punks writer-director Patrik-Ian Polk, 28, answers most of my questions over brunch at the Griddle Cafe in West Hollywood, Calif. He's not stalling, just multitasking. He takes calls on his cell phone during our interview because he's also overseeing the final sound mix of his fun and frothy gay romantic comedy, which charts the angst and drama of lovelorn Marcus (Seth Gilliam), a young professional black man, and his three romantically challenged friends, including a drag queen with a thing for Sister Sledge ("We Are Family"). Think Sex and the City with a deep tan.

Before malting Punks for less than $1 million, Polk, a Hattiesburg, Miss., native, graduated from Brandeis University, dropped out of the University of Southern California film school, and developed films at MTV Films and for R&B songster Babyface. That multitasking is no joke: Polk also wrote and performs three songs on his film's soundtrack.

I didn't realize that we, as gay black men, were reclaiming the word punk, like queer, as a political statement.

We are with this movie! When I was writing it, I didn't have a title. I was telling my friend about it, and he asked, "What's it about?" I said, "A bunch of punks," and he said, "Then that's what you call it--Punks." It was perfect, because I'm from Mississippi, and my understanding of the term was that it literally meant a gay man. I can remember going to a distant relative's house, and this really small little girl, with not a trace of malice, said, "Is you a punk?" So, hopefully, gay men will start to embrace that term.

Would you say you wrote this movie out of frustration with what passes for gay cinema?

There had been a surge of those gay independent movies, like Lie Down With Dogs. It was all white gay men and no people of color or one--marginalized--person of color, I had seen the latest one of those, and I thought, Someone should tell the other side of this story--I'll write a script. So over Christmas break from MTV in 1996 I wrote the script in, like, eight days. I got really good feedback, but I really didn't do anything with it.

Until Babyface decided to back it. Still, a lot of brand-name distributors, like Miramax and Lions Gate, took a pass. …